Nepal 101: Clothing for dummies

Nothing ever makes me happier than a warm, sunny, spring day. You know, that perfect day with puffy cotton-like clouds, birds chirping and smell of flowers in the air. Days seem to be of that kind in Kathmandu lately. Winter is definitely gone. Somehow we managed to go literally from boots and coats to tank tops and flip flops. From 1 degree Celsius to 31. I’m not complaining. My phase of “permanently frozen” is over and I don’t mind a bit of sweat on my forehead instead. Warm weather in Nepal screams for one and only question: What to wear? As in many (most?) other Asian (Eastern) countries, modest clothing is preferred, even if it’s boiling outside. What’s it like in Nepal and what should you pack when you are visiting?

One thing is for sure: you will want to leave your hot pants at home. No one is going to say anything if you actually wear them, but you might get quite a bit of odd stares in the street, or maybe even a whistle or two from passing guys. You can live without those pants – glances in the street are pretty uncomfortable. Long pants/skirt/cropped pants and a T-shirt are perfectly fine for a stroll in Nepal. Wearing traditional Nepali clothing like kurti is also fine, though not really neccessary. You can see a lot of Nepali girls in casual western clothes. If you really have your heart set on wearing a traditional Nepali clothing, you got two options.

Option no. 1: ready-made kurtas and sarees. Be prepared for them to not fit perfectly and to pay a higher price. Good side is that you can buy them and wear them the same day. It’s quick and simple.

Option no. 2: stitching. You can have kurtas and sarees stitched at the tailors, however, that could take a bit of time (usually about 7-10 days). On the other hand, it would cots only a fraction of a price of the ready-made ones and would fit perfectly.

The choice is yours.

One thing I definitely have a hard time digesting is all the foreigners in hippie clothing. OK, if that’s your style and you usually wear it back home – go for it. But it seems like there is a huge number of people visiting Nepal and assuming that’s what Nepalis wear so they go and buy and wear this ragged clothes sold only in Thamel. It’s surely not what Nepalis wear, and if you want to fit in with your clothes, hippie is not the road you should take.

Going back to revealing clothes. If you go out in Kathmandu on a Friday night, you are bound to witness some Nepali girls in extremely skimpy attires. I urge you not to think this is the norm or OK in any way. These are exceptions, and to be quite honest with you, I have never heard people make polite comments about those girls. You don’t want to be one of them. Particularly not if you are planning to take a taxi home late at night. You can dress in style, but be respectful to Nepalis. Skimpy clothing makes them shy and uncomfortable.

My humble opinion is that you can wear whatever you like in Nepal, as long as it’s not too tight or revealing. Make it light, airy and comfortable. Unless you’ll be going for a party, leave your heels at home. Kathmandu streets are not tailored for walking in a pair of those. Guys are lucky as anything goes for them!

I wonder if this was brought on by a foreigner in skimpy clothing on a micro bus. How many times it happened before they had to put up a sign?

I wonder if this was brought on by a foreigner in skimpy clothing on a micro bus. How many times it happened before they had to put up a sign?

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22 thoughts on “Nepal 101: Clothing for dummies

  1. I always find that girls in Kathmandu are very fashion forward.I was kind of shocked when I went back from Sydney for the first time. I think if you have your own car and you drive around in Kathmandu , you can get away with anything but if you are taking public transport definitely no reveling and skimpy outfits.

    I love wearing kurtas and saris while in there as I don’t get to wear them often here. 🙂

    I am actually in awe looking at the sign. I never saw that while I was there but seriously 🙂

  2. Again another interesting post about a subject that some people do not give a thought. Even when they should.

    I remember watching young western women in hotpants and tank-tops with distaste. Since it is so against the general idea of decency in Nepal. Why is it so hard to understand this?

    As to the hippy clothes, quilty as charged. I must admit that when living in Thamel and seeing these multi-coloured baggy harem trousers hanging on every rack in every shop, I was kind of blinded and started to believe that they are the norm. I bought three pairs and loved to wear them. They were so comfortable and made me feel young and a bit rebellious again. I probably looked only silly. When back at home I sort of woke up. What was I thinking. And on to the bottom shelf of my cupboard they went and there they stay. My little Nepali vice.

    • My little Nepali vice – that made me laugh so much. Though, hippie clothing, especially pants, looks soooo comfy, so in some ways i can see the attracting factor.

  3. I know what you mean about the hippies. My husband calls them “born again hippies” or “hippie wanna bees. Pokhara has a particularly bad dose. Might make a good blog post actually!

  4. I just understood the focus of your photograph. Unfortunately I’m told by many Nepali women at work that being gropped by men on public transportation is a very common problem. I’m sure scantily clad foreigners don’t help, though!

  5. Its so important to ‘fit in’ as much as possible when on holiday. And I think that those ‘hippies’ thought that is how to do that while there. Better than hot pants! Gasp those darn things people wear everywhere. I was shocked to see girls wearing them in Egypt…??? Have a great day.

  6. This is so true! I was shocked about the amount of tourists dressed as hippies when I went to Thamel! I was so indecisive when packing for Nepal but just ended up with three quarter sleeve tops and lots of pants, some leggings and a pair of jeans. All my Nepali friends told me that I would boil alive in Nepal but as soon as I had arrived it was raining and i’ve been wearing cardigans and jumpers all week!
    I wish I had read this post a month ago when I started packing! 😀
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Oh sorry! I actually had it prepared for so long but didn’t get around to posting it until few days ago.
      Glad to hear you arrived safely to Nepal! Welcome 🙂

  7. Hi from Banepa! Here, just 17 miles from Kathmandu, girls usually wear kurtas and only a few wear western clothes. I only see them wearing sarees to weddings or parties (it seems) although older ladies usually wear sarees all the time. However, yes, when I’m in Kathmandu, I see everything! Just this past Wednesday, I saw several Nepali girls wearing hot pants with high heels and even some wearing cami tank tops. This is new, even for me after being here only four years.
    I wear kurtas here in Banepa (which I must for my job), but I buy them ready made in Kathmandu. I don’t have the patience for the tailors. When I go to Kathmandu I always wear my “regular” clothes, and it’s nice to feel a little like my normal self. (Although the best thing about kurtas is that you don’t have to hold in your stomach!)
    By the way, guys are lucky when it comes to the public toilets too! 🙂
    Have a nice day!

    • I totally understand your impatience with tailors! They do a great job and I prefer them over the store-bought clothes, but I simply like the convenience of going to the store, picking out my clothes and having it at home with me the same day to wear to work the following morning.

  8. I always wondered why foreigners wore hippie clothes in Nepal. I even used to think it’s a western casual thing and Thamel sells them because foreigners like to wear it! I also feel modest clothing in cities has mostly got to do with public transport. Now many girls ride scooters and they wear anything they like. I think it will be very common soon and foreigners won’t have to worry much about it. But yes, it’s important to blend in and we did it too, depending on the part of country we were visiting. It just feels awkward when you stand out, and not in a good way.
    I grew up wearing jeans and t-shirts/nicer tops and I guess that’s the most common outfit in cities, and also acceptable in villages. I’m so used to wearing it that I wear that to work and everywhere here as well. I tried many times to change my style but nothing feels more comfy and makes me ready in a few minutes.
    And that sign! You sure have an eye for unique things. Never saw that before!

  9. This was a really good post and gave me some tips for what I should wear. Oh and I have one hippie jumper from Thamel but that’s it! haha. a general question, so if you went to a bar/fancy restaurant or party in Kathmandu would you wear a fancy nepali outfit (sari/kurtha) or would you wear fancy western dress?

    • I suppose that depends on what kind of event it is and who are the other invitees. For example, if it’s a wedding or a party where older Nepali crowd is expected, i would wear a saree. However, if it’s a friend’s birthday party, let’s say, in a fancy restaurant, and there’s only going to be young people, i would go with a dress. I would feel more comfortable that way, and chances are that most of the other girls will be in western clothes. The same goes for work parties.

  10. Thanks for the info. I’m gonna stay in Kathmandu throughout the monsoon season (June to Aug). Consistent rain is expected. I wonder if it’s ok to go for jeans.

    • Yea! Jeans will serve you well. Also maxi skirts.
      During monsoon it rains a lot, but it’s not non stop, sun and rain switch multiple times during a day so make sure your clothes is flowy, light and fast to dry 🙂 It’s very hot and humid during July and August.

  11. I am all for “Wear what you want” type, but when in Nepal, I have to reconsider it :/ Although traditional clothes (kurta and saree) are not foolproof from unwanted attention, I also think skimpy clothing generally attracts more unwanted attention, like you mentioned. But then again I have been harassed, whistled at, made remarks at a lot of times when I lived in Nepal and I always wore clothes that covered my legs, cleavage etc.
    This time when I will be in Nepal (September, but it will still be pretty warm I think), I will wear maxi skirts, floral cotton trousers and modest sundresses, hehe. My friends in Nepal generally wear what they like, but above their knees, they’re always covered. The last time I was in Nepal (in summer), I went around in hot pants as well because jeans were so impossible and I had a scooter. But one day, my scooter got towed from a place which I didn’t know wasn’t a parking area (no signs about that), so I had to take public transport. I was stared so much by men and women both that I hated it. I was in trousers and some t-shirt that day, nothing revealing. Staring makes you so uncomfortable.. I absolutely hate when people stare for such long periods without any shame. So for Nepal, I think, Western clothes that don’t reveal too much skin is just fine. Although I have nothing against people who want to wear hot pants, spaghetti tops either. The more girls wear it, the more it becomes normal for the men, much like here in the West 🙂

  12. I am pretty confused when you say bad about hippie clothing. Why is it disrespectful for Nepalis? It does hide all the explicit parts, and still it is airy and comfortable made from natural fibers and colours?
    And later on you say “that you can wear whatever you like in Nepal, as long as it’s not too tight or revealing”?
    I have never been there but follow friends on their journeys and I always want to find out more about third-world countries.
    All in all, I think that many people that tour Nepal come from India where hippie communities are spread in 60-ies in Goa, where many hippies find there place to stay and live, more free than in capitalistic western world.. Goa is still a home for many of them and new that are coming.
    And the most famous place in hippie world after Goa is Pokhara so for me it doesn’t seem strange for you to see all those tourists in hippie clothes. They are hippies. Traveling the world in their most lightly and comfortable clothes, they try to avoid any capitalistic norms, like sleeping in the hotel..
    but on the other hand I bet that most of them, when touring is over, dress like you and me while at home.
    they put the dimije under the bed and their sako on. 😉
    In Croatia we have only one shop in capital city with that kind of clothes, 100 times expencier than in India, and it is selling like mad. Good for business oportunity 😉
    Also I hope that you are OK after the earthquake and I’m eager to read your next blog post.

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